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One size fits not quite all: Universal research ethics with diversity

For researchers in Aotearoa New Zealand who intend to conduct research with people, it is common practice to first ensure that their proposals are approved by a Human Research Ethics Committee (HREC). HRECs take the role of reviewing, approving or rejecting research proposals and deciding on whether the intended research will be completed in the ‘right’, rather than the ‘wrong’ way. Such decisions are based upon a system which is guided by universal ethical principles – principles that assume there is universal agreement about the ethically right way to conduct research. Increasingly, Aotearoa New Zealand is becoming more culturally diverse. Actions that are assumed as ‘right’ in reference to ethical norms endorsed in one culture or society may not always be considered ‘right’ in reference to ethical norms in another culture or society. In this article we first set out what is already known in the literature about the origins and applications of universal ethics in a research context. Next, we analyse how cultural values and beliefs bear influence on the process of ethical deliberation. Two case studies illustrate our own examples of how conducting ethical research projects following universal principles with cultural diversity operated in practice. We conclude that one size fits not quite all. Lastly, we propose that Aotearoa New Zealand HRECs may need to consider expanding their approach from universal ethical principles to include a more diverse interpretation of what is ‘ethical research conduct’. Rather than advocating a radical approach, i.e. either universality or diversity, it is time for HRECs to consider a hybrid approach of universality with diversity that permits partial detour from universal principles when considering ethics application proposals.
Journal Article
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Msoroka, M. S., & Amundsen, D. L. (2018). One size fits not quite all: Universal research ethics with diversity. Research Ethics, 14(3), 1–17. https://doi.org/10.1177/1747016117739939
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